No one should go to the theater on an empty stomach, which is why Chicago’s Theater District restaurants pull out the stops to feed hungry arts patrons.
More than a convergence of stages and spotlights, Chicago’s Theater District is a haven where the rhapsody of live performances harmonizes with the exquisite notes of diverse cuisines. These aren’t just eateries; they’re an integral part of the theater experience. Theater aficionados know that an empty stomach is no companion to the soul-stirring narratives that dance across the stage. So the restaurants enable a complete sensory journey from briny seafood to old-world charm to timeless classics. Both new and iconic establishments stand shoulder to shoulder to form an essential ensemble for those who understand that a well-fed appetite enriches the appreciation of the arts.
With the waves of Lake Michigan just blocks away, it’s not surprising that incredibly fresh seafood can be found downtown Chicago and few places do it up better than the iconic Catch 35, a Theater District restaurant that hosts live jazz. They recently updated their menu with a wealth of options for lunch or dinner. For the midday meal, they feature small plates such as charbroiled oysters and tuna poke nachos or sliders, burgers and fish options. Their roasted beet salad is delectable with its sweetness beautifully balanced by the savory chive and cheddar biscuits. Dinner features everything from surf and turf combos, local favorites and wok-prepared entrees. A recent addition is a new twist on a flavorful pan-seared rare tuna steak with jalapeno, cilantro-lime soy sauce, avocado and a chive potsticker. While they have several delicious desserts, the one locals swear by is the sticky toffee pudding cake, made with dates and butter caramel sauce. It literally dissolves in the warmth of your mouth. After the pandemic, it was briefly removed from their menu, but the clamor from regulars brought it back. They also have extensive wine, beer, cocktail and spirits menus–or deliciously sweet mocktails for those who prefer alcohol-free sips. Within easy walking distance to seven of Chicago’s theaters (including the Nederlander, Civic Opera House and the Goodman Theatre), they aim to be a featured part of a night out at the theater.
35 W. Wacker Drive, Chicago
State and Lake Chicago Tavern
Don’t be fooled by its description as a tavern: The food you will get at the State and Lake inside theWit easily competes with those offered up by fine dining establishments. The atmosphere is casual and relaxing, but the cuisine captures a creative artisanal twist on American dishes. For example, why settle for tomato and mozzarella bruschetta when you can get a version with burrata, spiced watermelon, pickled red onion and a crunchy maple pumpkin seed granola? Or for those looking for a more international flair, the charred Spanish octopus encircles a mix of pickled vegetables, marcon almonds and romesco sauce. While you can go as simple as a double griddle burger with Havarti cheese for an entree, you can also get braised short ribs with pineapple-Chinese sausage, jasmine fried rice and hoisin sauce. Each entree is prepared with a creative combination of chef-curated flavors including Maine lobster ricotta ravioli, grilled Faroe Island salmon, housemade potato gnocchi with bolognese sauce, Thai bouillabaisse of grilled seabass and spaghetti surf clam puttanesca. No matter how filling the first few courses are, you won’t want to skip dessert. High on the list of unique options is the banana pudding with crispy vanilla wafers topped with a thinly sliced caramelized banana. Or, if you’re craving chocolate, there is the Valrhona chocolate devil’s food cake with vanilla bean ice cream. Located next door to The Chicago Theatre, you’ll find no better pub fare to satisfy pre-show cravings.
201 N. State Street, Chicago
Russian Tea Time Restaurant
For those seeking an elegant start to an evening of theater, the Russian Tea Time Restaurant offers a unique and memorable experience. For nearly 30 years, they have provided a blend of Eastern European, Asian and Russian cuisines and an afternoon tea service that lasts until 7:30 p.m., just before theater curtains rise. Opening in 1993, locals swoon about the dining experience. The restaurant opened after owner and chef Klara Muchnik immigrated to the United States with her family. Born and raised in Ukraine, she had a passion for cooking and baking and while working as a nurse in Uzbekistan she started a side business catering parties. When she moved to Chicago, her son, Vadim Muchnik used his business skills to make his mother’s dream of a restaurant come to life. The Russian Tea House combines her Russian roots with the culinary traditions and flavors of the former Soviet Republics. Vegetarians can enjoy Tashkent carrot salad, eggplant Orientale, beet caviar or golubstky while those who eat meat can enjoy pelmeni, wild game, chicken Kiev, beef stroganoff and wild quail. For many, though, the highlight is being able to indulge in a high tea—choosing between classic tea service, queen tea service and samovar service. Each tea allows guests to choose from two pages of different teas from oolongs, greens, blacks, white, herbal, fruit and flavored. They are then brought a three-tiered plate of scones, tea sandwiches and mini sweets.
77 E Adams St, Chicago 60603
An immigrant is also responsible for another icon in Chicago’s theater district, a restaurant that has been family-owned and operated for more than 125 years. Herman Berghoff emigrated to the U.S. from Germany and started selling beers at the Chicago World Fair in 1893. Bolstered by customer response, he opened The Berghoff, where he sold beers for a nickel with a free side sandwich. During Prohibition, he brewed “near beer” and Berghoff soda pops and then was able to get Chicago’s first liquor license after Prohibition was lifted. The bar served only men until 1969 when Gloria Steinem and other members of the National Organization for Women demanded to be served. The bar is now called the Adams Street Brewery. Adorned with traditional Bavarian décor, the Berghoff serves up traditional German fare with creative culinary twists. For example, their potato pancakes are topped with Landjager, Brie, apples, bacon and a fig marmalade. Currywurst competes with molasses-crusted pork chops on their entrée menu along with such signature dishes as jäger schnitzel, sauerbraten and spätzle dumplings. Not everything is strictly German, though. You can get watermelon salad, fish tacos, a fried green tomato stack and various forms of salmon and whitefish. If you’re still hungry at the end of the meal, you can indulge in such desserts as black forest cake, strawberry rhubarb cobbler or a float made with Berghoff’s own root beer.
17 W. Adams Road, Chicago, MI 60603
Places like Beatrix Loop cater to those who want a night at the theater to be special from start to finish. Their menus are curated to cast dinner in a starring role in the evening’s production. A neighborhood coffee house and restaurant in the Loop, it is the brainchild of executives from Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises, a place where they encourage people to gather and enjoy healthy and delicious options from coffee to baked goods to entrees. Guests who show proof of same-day Broadway in Chicago tickets on Mondays through Fridays can indulge in a pre-theater menu, a three-act affair featuring snacks, entrees and desserts for $35 per person plus tax and gratuity. The menu includes such options as hot honey Brussels sprouts, whipped feta, wild mushroom teriyaki bowl, braised beef Pappardelle and whitefish scampi. And the sweet end can include coconut chia pudding, Oh My! Caramel Pie or a gluten-free ‘Tall, Dark & Handsome Chocolate Cake.’ Their coffee bar showcases Beatrix coffee roasters and the baristas will whip up a variety of coffee drinks and lattes. They boast such favorites as honey cinnamon latte, matcha iced latte and Mexican iced coffee. Or for those who want something stronger, there is a wine collection that mixes domestic and international selections and a cocktail program that includes both classic cocktails and unique drinks made from seasonal fruits, juices and made-in-house ingredients.
155 N. Wacker, Chicago, 60606
Beatnik on the River
Chicago’s art lovers have a home in Beatnik on the River, named for the bohemian freethinkers of the 1950s and 1960s, a restaurant that channels history and modernity, a sense of style and rebellion. Led by Executive Chef Marcos Campos, the restaurant presents a design-through-storytelling whimsy in its menus, drinks and décor. Flavors are drawn from the Middle East while using Midwest farms for the ingredients. The menu starts out with ceviches and crudos and includes spreads, salads, mezzes and sharables. Weekend brunches feature such items as avocado toast, honey granola, sweet potato hash, shashuka, and sticky date cake. The award-winning beverage team takes a no-waste approach to craft cocktails with unique recipes. Their spirit-free cocktails have the same attention and creativity as their spirit-friendly ones. They boast that the winemakers (both domestic and international) who contribute to their adventurous wine list are “avant-garde, rebels, artists” whose creations create a journey for diners. Starting as an 80-seat riverfront patio in 2018, filled with Indonesian daybeds and Moroccan lanterns, it expanded a year later to the 6,000-square-foot space that seats 200. The design fuses the décor of Morocco, the Mediterranean countryside and Italy and features more than 400 living plants and iconic antique pieces from around the world. They regale guests with music from around the world via live DJs.
180 N. Upper Wacker Drive, Chicago 60606
Petterino’s, an Italian restaurant managed by The Good Plate Hospitality company, has long catered to Chicago theater-goers. Locals share that servers are accustomed to pacing a meal so guests can enjoy it while not being late for their shows. For more than 20 years, the iconic, downtown restaurant has pulled out its chairs for the known and unknown alike. Hanging on their walls are caricatures of the famous politicians, celebrities and influencers who have eaten in their booths. It’s a place that serves timeless, authentic Italian fare with warm hospitality. Their daily closing times are based on when nearby shows let out so that guests can stop in for after-theater drinks from Italian Old Fashioned to the wildly popular Espresso Martinis. They have an extensive wine list along with martinis, cocktails and spirit-free concoctions. In addition to having menus filled with Italian favorites for lunch, dinner, happy hour, dessert and kids…they also have a puppy menu. Dogs are allowed on their outdoor patio and their human companions can indulge them with burgers, chicken, and meatballs made especially for canines. There is even a Cane di Puccino created with whipped cream, kibble crumble and peanut butter. Their care for the community goes beyond their doors. Inspired by a formerly homeless bartender who sets aside a third of his paycheck to feed the homeless, Petterino’s joined him last Christmas to serve 500 hot meals and care packages to Chicago homeless.
150 N Dearborn St, Chicago, IL 60601
Theater lovers connect with Brightwok over such shared values as laughing together, being passionate and making the world more joyful. In 2015, founder and CEO Jeremy Klaben partnered with Chef Kolter Livengood to create a different restaurant, one that could provide a magical experience for diners by serving dishes made with high-quality ingredients “in a very approachable way at very affordable prices.” Now with two locations, including one in the Loop, they infuse flavor into a veggie-focused, Asian-inspired restaurant. They hired passionate kitchen staff to prepare a menu that would accommodate people with specific dietary preferences and allergies. Their sauces are vegan and nothing on the menu has dairy, fish, shellfish or peanuts. Most everything is gluten-free and anything that isn’t comes with a “contains gluten” sticker. Their chicken is certified Halal and is antibiotic-free. They’ll gladly customize any item on their menu, encouraging people to share whether they’d like more or less sauce, no oil or any spice level. Don’t like an ingredient? They’ll substitute it for another. Their specialties are their bowls, all wok-prepared. You can build your own or select from such choices as “Earth, Curry and Fire” with chili coconut curry, white rice, organic tofu, kale, onions, carrots, peppers and crispy egg or “The Crunchy Crave” with creamy cashew, brown rice, grass-fed steak, kale, bean sprouts, broccoli and carrots.
631 N. State St., Chicago 60606